Freeport shooting: A sad tragedy, but don’t overlook past Papua repression

Residents of Tembagapura district in Mimika regency, Papua, wait to be evacuated by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police personnel earlier this month. Image: Sevianto Pakiding/Antara/The Jakarta Post

COMMENTARY: By Laurens Ikinia

A sad story has taken place again in the PT Freeport Indonesia gold and copper mine area near Timika in West Papua on Monday with one New Zealander shot dead and two other workers being severely wounded as reported by Asia Pacific Report yesterday.

As one of the West Papuan students studying in New Zealand at Auckland University of Technology, I would firstly like to extend my deep condolences to the family members who are directly or indirectly effected by this tragedy.

My thoughts and prayers are with you, particularly Graeme Thomas Wall’s family here in New Zealand.

READ MORE: Background on the West Papuan conflict, social justice

The tragedy leaves all New Zealanders with a question, who are the actual shooters in this attack?

As United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), the umbrella organisation of the independence movement, states in its media advisory notice, it is impossible for anyone to get to the site that is tightly guarded by the Indonesian special security.

“The West Papua Army is opposed to Indonesia’s illegal occupation, not ordinary citizens. We note that today’s shooting is reported to have taken place in a highly professional manner, at over 300 metres – the likely signs of an Indonesian special forces’ operation.

“The region around the site is extremely tightly guarded by the Indonesian security forces – how could this get through them?” ULMWP asked.

Past shooting examples
Also, the ULMWP gives some examples of shootings that have happened in the past, such as the killing of two Americans and one Indonesian in 2002 and the killing of a German tourist in Jayapura in 2012.

The ULMWP stated that this kind of attack has happened before in an attempt by Indonesian authorities to blame the West Papuan Liberation Army and claim that Papua is dangerous for international media and tourists.

“In 2002, as exposed by Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono and Deakin University anthropologist Eben Kirksey, the Indonesian military shot dead two Americans and one Indonesian, blaming West Papuans,” said the ULMWP.

RNZ Pacific reports that according to the local police officer, the shooting was led by a local commander of West Papua Liberation Army, Joni Botak.

Indonesia’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, has condemned the shooting attack.

“The armed criminal group in Papua always claim they will only attack security forces. The fact shows that the majority of their victims are civilians,” he said.

“The shooting in Kuala Kencana will only add the burdens of the people and the security apparatus in Papua, who are now working hard in containing the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Our deepest condolences to the family of the victims. We stand ready to help when needed.”

My plea for the future
As a response to this tragedy, I believe there will be some action taken by the Indonesian authorities. Therefore, in order to reveal the truth and to avoid this kind of incident taking place in the future, I strongly request:

  • First, the Indonesian government in Jakarta must allow the independent media and NGOs to enter the region and to conduct an extensive investigation to reveal who are actually the perpetrators.
  • Second, the central government should take a constructive dialogue approach as recommended by Papua Peace Network (Jaringan Damai Papua), and
  • Finally, all the media in Indonesia and foreign media that report this kind of tragedy should conduct a thorough investigations prior to publication.

Laurens Ikinia is a Papuan student on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies programme at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

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